Lobdell: Boat Parade is great — for everyone else

December 16, 2010|By William Lobdell

I know I'm supposed to love the Christmas Boat Parade, but I just don't.

It makes me feel a little Grinchy to admit this, but I have no desire to be among the estimated 1 million enchanted spectators who will line the bay front of Newport Harbor over five nights this week (the parade continues this evening through Sunday, rain or clear skies).

I know the sight of more than 100 boats bedazzled with miles of colored holiday lights — and floating against a backdrop of mansions lit up like Clark Griswold's home in "Christmas Vacation" — is enough to take anyone's breath away, including mine.


But for me, the breathlessness lasts only a few minutes before the repetitive passing of each gorgeously decorated boat numbs my brain — and that's without the assist of any liquid Christmas cheer.

I soon find myself looking at my watch and thinking glumly, "Oh, holy night! I have to endure this for two more hours? I've got to find some eggnog — fast!"

If you think that makes me Newport-Mesa's version of Scrooge, hold onto your mistletoe. I haven't even gotten started.

Even the event's official title — the 102nd annual Christmas Boat Parade — doesn't quite sit right with me. It's not because organizers haven't yet exchanged "Christmas" for "Holiday" in a fit of political correctness. It's the "102nd annual" part because the calculation is more than a little bit off. Here's the back story.

The "Illuminated Water Parade" — as it was first called — started on the evening of July 4, 1908, when John Scarpa, an Italian gondolier, and Joseph Beek, one of Newport's founding fathers, put together a rag-tag, nine-boat procession lit by Japanese lanterns. It was said to be America's first lighted boat parade.

Since then, the parade has missed several years, during World War I and in the late 1940s when the police and fire officials believed the then-summer event attracted too many visitors to Newport's already crowded streets.

The current shift to a Christmas-season boat parade had its beginnings in 1946, when city employees decorated a barge during the holidays and brought carolers — mostly children — aboard to serenade residents on the bay front.

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